I know how you feel

We've got shark video! Also, a phrase that I said by mistake, and 7 other things worth your time.

Before we get into today’s story, the most popular link yesterday by far was the one about the Coast Guard sharpshooter fighting a shark.

Well, now we have video.

Also, that unicorn floatie looks awfully familiar. (I got it for my daughter a few months ago.)


Moving right along…

I’ve been trying lately, with mixed success, to reach out to friends and colleagues I haven’t talked with in a while. It seems like a good Covid-coping thing to do.

In one such recent conversation, an old friend was trying to stay positive, but he was telling me about a pretty sad string of events that have hit him this year.

I don’t want to “out” him here, so let’s just say it’s about Covid-19 stress, relationship drama, and some work-related financial issues all coming together at the same time. (That should be generic enough, right?)

Anyway, I was trying to be empathetic. I’ve been through all those kinds of things before. Without thinking, I told him: “I know how you feel.”

Whoops.

Actually, then I started laughing, and I explained why.

As it happens, this phrase is the subject of one of the most controversial articles I’ve ever written. It was on Inc.com, and I’ll adapt it a bit below.

It came to me after reading my colleague Justin Bariso's book, EQ Applied, about emotional intelligence.

The theory is that “I know how you feel” builds a wall between people, rather than a connection, because: (a) you can’t truly understand what someone else feels, and (b) the phrase subtly turns the conversation toward your experience, and away from the person you’re speaking with.

A sociologist named Charles Derber suggests it’s because the key to displaying empathy in a conversation is to ask yourself whether you're offering a “shift response” or a “support response.”

  • A shift response involves an attempt to guide the conversation toward your life experiences, and away from the experiences of the person you're ostensibly listening to and perhaps even trying to help. 

  • A support response sets aside your ego, and instead keeps the focus on the other person's feelings and experience.

Examples:

1. “My boss doesn't respect me.”

  • Shift response: "I went through the exact same thing last year. I wound up leaving and finding a better job."

  • Support response: "I'm sorry to hear that. What makes you feel that way?"

2. “If I could just get organized, I'd have the world on a string.”

  • Shift response: "I know. I have the same problem."

  • Support response: "What do you think stops you from being organized?"

3. “I'm so sad since my breakup.”

  • Shift response: "You just need to get back out there and start dating again."

  • Support response: "What do you think stops you from being able to move forward?"

Derber calls the whole phenomenon of well-meaning people shifting the discussion to their own experience, “conversational narcissism.” (Is that a $20 phrase to describe a $1 problem? Maybe. But I kind of like it.)

To be clear, this is not a universal opinion. In fact, this old article blows up once in a while on Facebook. If I happen to come across the post, I can be guaranteed to see some pretty diverse opinions.

“A frank exchange of views,” as diplomats say.

Still, I’m on board enough that I try to avoid it—except when I forget.

What do you think? If I’m running a website and newsletter called “Understandably,” this seems like something I ought to try to get right.

7 other things worth your time

  • With no buyer in sight, Lord & Taylor liquidates all its stores. (RetailDive)

  • Walmart is teaming up with Microsoft to make an offer on TikTok. (Business Insider)

  • Hurricane Laura toppled a Confederate monument weeks after officials voted to keep it. (Fox 5 New York)

  • Major League Baseball postponed 7 games, the NHL suspended its playoffs, and NFL teams halted practices in the wake of protests against the police shooting of Jacob Blake in Wisconsin. Also, Naomi Osaka dropped out of a tournament for the same reason. But the NBA will apparently return. (CBS Sports, NHL, Yahoo Sports)

  • The attorney general of Washington, DC sued Instacart, saying tips meant for workers went into the company’s pockets instead. (Fox 5 DC)

  • Americans who have been working from home during the pandemic have now saved a total of $91 billion in commuting costs. (Bloomberg)

  • As if dating weren’t hard enough already: The DNC is warning its single staffers to be careful because they’ve heard that “opposition groups may be trying to 'sting' or infiltrate Democratic campaigns or organizations through dating sites.” (CNN)

Leave a comment

If you liked this post, and you’re not yet a subscriber, please sign up for the daily Understandably.com email newsletter, with thousands and thousands of 5-star ratings from happy readers. You can also just send an email to signup@understandably.com. And now, you can also get it by text at (718) 866-1753.

And of course, please share Understandably! Seriously, that’s the #1 thing we need right now, is for people who enjoy this newsletter to encourage friends and family to sign up as well. Thank you!

Share

One-click review and feedback: